I ‘ve been preaching through Ephesians the last 7 weeks, going with the RCL’s secondary reading. A few weeks back, part of my pericope was Ephesians 5:18, part of which reads, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery.” It is one of those places where the Bible is clear on drunkenness. It was also quite convicting.
My background is fundamentalist and Southern, which means I was raised on the idea that alcohol is, in the words of Adam Sandler in The Waterboy, “The DEBIL!” When I went to college, I realized quite simply that the people who insisted that drinking alcohol of any kind was “unchristian” were quite simply talking out of their anuses. They didn’t drink because their parents didn’t, they claimed it was based on “the Bible” but could never account for why Jesus enjoyed wine so much that he provided a last round for everyone at little soiree in Cana.
So I started to drink, once I turned 21. And it was fun. I partied with my friends…never did anything too stupid, never drank and drive, but I did enjoy partying to the point of intoxication. This *maybe* even happened in seminary. I know the dangers of alcoholism because my family is rife with it, but it’s never been a burden to me in that way. I never drank when I felt bad or drank to get courage, but it was quite simply a way to enhance my enjoyment of good company. Such days are over now, largely, though I enjoy my occasional glass of scotch or beer.
But the Bible Belt is, even though my church is not fundamentalist, essentially all Baptist. Among many people in my pews and others around North Carolina, alcohol is still a touchy and sore subject. I’m not sure how to account for it, because certainly (like abortion and the gay marriage issue) the Bible is not nearly as concerned as we are about booze.
The best I have surmised is that this sentiment is a leftover, a sort of long-term nuclear fallout, of the Temperance Movement. Of course, the great irony of the temperance movement was that it took a word which meant ‘moderation’ and changed it to ‘abstinence’.
Most people around the world and throughout history have simply had alcoholic beverages as part of their everyday lives. I was surprised to learn recently that even the Puritan settlers of the early New England colonies drank primarily homemade beer (and their children drank a diluted version of this). The lack of clean water made this medically necessary. How we got from that everyday, staple understanding of beer and wine to “alcohol is the devil” is interesting. I would ask my Baptist seminary friends why their churches were so against alcohol and none of them could ever give me a real answer. Even many of the more liberal ones that I know still did not drink alcohol. This is all the more interesting because Baptists have no unified structure to declare a top-down policy on alcohol; this stance is simply assumed at all levels.
So, WWJD at a bar? Would he sit in the corner with upturned nose as the heathens drank their Guinness and Cabernet and Johnnie Walker? [Note: this image is modelled after my Campus Crusade friends' actions throughout college] Doubtful. Wine is, after all, still preserved as part of the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis. Generally it is not things themselves which are evil, but their ill use. As Ephesians points out, the problem is not the wine but the drunkenness. The problem, usually, is not with the things themselves but with us, within our bent and twisted and ego-driven souls. So, I contend that Jesus would probably have a beer with us (he touched lepers, after all)…but, in the immortal words of Cal Naughton Jr, I doubt he would ” get HAMMERED drunk.”